The undisputed King of the Underworld
Diablo is an unmistakable giant within the genre it helped create, effectively coining the term ‘action role-playing’. That’s just what it is – an engaging action game with some general, if still very intriguing, role-playing elements. It’s ease of use is so great that anyone can just pick it up and start hacking without so much as glancing through the manual. It helped spread the dark-fantasy RPG to a much wider audience thanks to its fast gameplay and intuitive controls, leading countless companies to develop their own batch of Diablo clones.
The story places you in the befallen town of Tristram, where an unspeakable evil was unleashed deep below the town’s cathedral. The locals are worked up as to why their only place of worship is now teeming with blood-thirsty demons straight out of Hell, and so naturally it’s your job to descend into the thick of it and find out what’s brewing. The plot unfolds in steps as you explore the dungeons, caves and catacombs below Tristram, eventually leading you to the very bowels of Hell itself.
The RPG component is here, but it’s heavily washed down. The game can be experienced as either a Warrior, Rogue or Sorcerer. Although the level of freedom you get with character development isn’t huge, the process is still an enjoyable and challenging one. Several base attributes dictate how strong, agile, magically potent and healthy you are, with each character benefiting more from certain traits than others (Warriors can swing axes quite naturally, whereas feeble Sorcerers can barely swing a staff). You’re free to built up your character, and receive five points upon each Level Up to spend on any of your stats.
Part of what made all Diablo games addictive is its itemization model. Equipable items are spread far and wide but are essentially broken down into weapons, armor and jewelry. Each one of these three categories branch off into multiple subcategories before arriving at a base item, be it a sword or suit of armor. Diablo introduced a clever way of generating random stuff by adding affixes (simple modifiers) to its pool of magically imbued equipment. The result is a large base of items that can have random magical properties in a seemingly endless string of combinations.
Spelling it out Mildly
Diablo’s spellcasting system may feel misplaced at first but the system is fully functional once you come to grips with it. Spells may be learned by reading spellbooks that are scattered throughout the dungeons and which are subject to the same stat requirements as items or weapons, except spells require Magic. This approach means that low-magic characters, like the Warrior and Rogue, will be hard-pressed at casting even low level spells. Reading books will add one spell level or upgrade a previously learned spell. Learning which spells are the best is essential to creating an extremely powerful Mage, one that can top both the Warrior and Rogue with ease.
All of the action takes place below Tristram while the town itself acts as a safe haven for players to restock and chat up with the locals. Gossiping with the scared inhabitants and listening to their plight is extremely involving if you follow Diablo’s storyline carefully. Both their voice acting and vivid retelling of past events give them life. In fact, this game sounds spectacular! The monsters grunt nicely, weapons clash loudly and the music is spot-on.
The action is reasonably paced and the entire game is randomized for maximum replay value in both single-player and IPX / Battlenet multiplayer sessions. Each map is randomly generated and looks completely believable, involving a trip of 15 levelsl all the way down to Hell itself. The monsters swarming in these billowing halls of blood deserve special mention for being hard to kill. The only thing that bogs down the gameplay is the walking speed, which is excruciatingly slow. It removes any chance of a clear retreat when things heat up. God forbid you should find yourself deep below the dungeon without a Town Portal scroll. You’d have to retrace your steps all the way back up to the surface, which may take several uneventful minutes. Stocking up in town is also made painfully slow by your character’s walking.
There are few things wrong with Diablo. it’s spell system is inefficient but that’s excusable considering its age. The walking speed is horrendous, I’ll admit it. But it’s enjoyable in almost every other regard. It’s historical contribution to popularizing the ARPG subgenre and lining up the successful franchise that Diablo became today is without par. Surprisingly, the game is still played on Gameranger every so often. Multiplayer matches reset each of Diablo’s 15 dungeons to enable any character of any level to fight where they’re most comfortable with alongside other internet players, which is a nice feature. Up to four people can play on a game.
Despite the rather fair amount of necessary repetition and a few assorted faulty designs, Diablo is a must for anyone interested in simple fun. Most action gamers and RPG-ers alike will be enthralled by the atmosphere, story and gameplay.
System Requirements: Pentium 60 Mhz, 8 MB RAM, Windows 95